Sunday, August 18, 2013

WATERWORLD: Or How to Survive in a City Below Sea Level

As I write this, I am trapped.

Out here in the southern suburb, the rains have not ceased since last night.  It is good to be in bed with the sound of downpour providing a calming and cooling feeling as you cuddle up with your pillows and enjoy the company of the Sandman.  But the sound of rain is only calming if you are in that place where you want to be ... and you don't have to be anywhere else at any given time within the day.

After all, coming home from a Sunday night event in Pasay City was already an ordeal.  As early as 3 PM the rains have started to pour --- and even if I was insulated from what turned out to be another fluvial experience in the safety of the Cuneta Astrodome, the rest of the city was already sinking in rising flood waters.  

By 10:45 PM, when it was time to go home --- the maneuvering necessary just to avoid sinking in knee high flood waters was a test of cunning, driving expertise and --- yes, a mastery of all the possible routes in the streets of Manila.

And even as the rains keep coming as I pound on my keyboard, memories of that now legendary Onday creeps into my consciousness. 

Again insulated in the southern 'burbs, I was completely unaware that the Marikina River was overflowing, that cities and villages were literally sinking under the rising waters and the death toll was rising. But it was enough of a trauma.  It was enough to see photographs of how high the waters rose ... and how much damage to human lives and properties were done.

What is even more frightful is the inevitable fact.  Despite, in spite and over above all the efforts done by government, this will happen again and again.  The flood waters will rise in Marikina, Bulacan, certain parts of Laguna, Malabon, etcetera.  The seeming irreversible effect of man's violation and abuse of nature have taken toll --- and remedies done at this point is merely palliative and not conclusive.

Now that is frightening.

It is frightening to admit that the clogged esteros and waterways where garbage is irresponsibly dumped has become so lethal that the determination of government agencies to correct this grievous sin has fallen short of the degree of consequence now suffered.  The work must be ongoing but the disaster has also become overwhelming.

Easier it is to dismiss all this as a result of global warming saying that, "Kahit nga sa Amerika nangyayari yan, sa Pinas pa kaya?"  But still.  Are we therefore here to accept the fact that flood waters will continue to rise as the sea level also reaches unfathomable heights because of the melting of the Polar Caps?

Are we to tell the rich and can-afford that it is time to acquire not Hummers or pampapogi Jeeps but to purchase amphibian tanks instead?  Are we to accept that it has become part of twenty first century existence to deal with floods, live in areas that will be submerged in murky waters and take the punishment for generations of insensitivity to natural balance or even respect for the planet?

As somebody told me with such cynical and vicious conviction,"Face it. It ain't going to get any better. It's just going to be far much worse."

So as I am trapped in my house as the rains keep pouring, I can only be thankful that I took swimming lessons in college.  And that wading in dirty flood waters can just turn out to be yet another national sport.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Lately each morning when I get to the breakfast table and open the papers, my day is ruined.

For the past weeks, there has been this continuing telenovela of yet another tale of shameless graft and corruption in a country promising its resurrection by tireless and revolutionary reforms.

The sudden disappearance of the Queen of the Pork People after a warrant of arrest has been issued by the Department of Justice was only the start of my chronic dyspepsia.  

The week before that, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) has come out with a series of shocking revelations about just how much was carted away from the national coffers to land straight into the gaping purses of certain resourceful individuals that include legislators and scam bunnies like this Invisible Woman.

Then came that "invitational round table interview" of our heroine with the Inquirer editors which shall hold a record of being one of the most incoherent, absurd bordering on the surreal encounters of humans among each other.  An effort to complete a sentence has become a feat.  An even greater effort is to make sense out of statements --- as the woman in questions mumbled, grumbled and eventually stumbled her way in various fabrications hoping to approximate truth.

But wait ... there's more.

Worse than those mind-boggling experiences with media, revelations about the ostentatious lifestyle of the unexplained rich and cheesy infamous rattled all Filipino netizens or anyone who has access to YouTube. 

Images of a lavish birthday party in L.A. hosted by the youngest offspring of said Magic Lady were meant to be awesome, showing how the spoiled rich and privileged spend their money to mark monumental moments of their perfumed lives. The video only complemented Instagram images posted by the same West Coast junior socialite showing her rubbing elbows with high profile Hollywood personalities and exhibiting her collection of designer handbags and shoes.

The video and the web photos all seem to point to some Paris Hilton Wannabe --- complete with that breathless sort of excitement one usually associates with early stages of asphyxia or just typical behavior of airheads.  Whatever.  But regardless of one thinks or feels, the more fashionable among us will admit that the clothes fit good --- and the food looks great.

"Well, if you have it ... then flaunt it."  

That must have been the justification for all that.  After all, it IS the age of the selfie in which you take pictures, spread the image through the net to announce to the world what kind of sushi or dessert you are having right that very moment. If you've got what it takes, then show it ... At mamatay kayong lahat sa inggit kung hindi nyo ito ma-take.

But then again such exhibitions of orchestrated vanity are not justified at all when the money allegedly used for buying the bubblies, the hors d'ouvres, the entire runway set-up for the party and even that tacky photo booth where all her blonde and blue-eyed American friends can go glamorously goofy were paid for by the taxes of the natives back home.

Let's get real here and put penis-envy aside.  There is nothing wrong wearing your Leboutins, Jimmy Choos or sporting all your Stella McCartneys, Herve Legers or Narciso Rodriguezes if what pays for your credit card bills was not extracted from the withholding tax of some humble employee who has to brave the long lines to get into the MRT and invest even greater courage cramped into the tiny space of a train coach overflowing with daily commuters just to get a salary of less than P9000 a month.  

It is OK to stuff your mouth with delicious sushi filled with luscious salmon roe if what pays for your food was not filched from the VAT incorporated in the purchase of goods from a grocery that a minimum wage earner must pay for to feed his family on a daily budget basis.

This is the cause of the present indignation.

People pay taxes to finance government projects so that we have better roads, build a better educational system, develop a credible and effective health care program.  Thirty-three per cent (that is clearly one third) of an employee's salary is not deducted from his take home pay in order to finance a birthday party in some fancy hotel on the other side of the Pacific.  It is not only very wrong --- it is repulsive.

More than the lavish acquisitions of both real estate properties as well as all forms of assets by the family of the alleged mastermind, it is the sudden realization that nothing has changed. It is this frustration mixed with disillusionment --- because each and every time there is new leadership, you keep hoping that the country's history will be shaped by far more than rah-rah-rah speeches or great rhetoric.

You wish there would indeed be leadership that is selfless because it ruled by dedication, principle and conviction --- and not shaped by media frenzy or a marvel of personality marketing. After a while you get an overload of promises that end up as nothing but nicely constructed syllables meant to make sense and boost the morale.

At the end of the day, you find out that the country hasn't budged an inch. That is because for every step forward, you take three backwards. It is like dancing very bad cha-cha.

Yes, there are sincere efforts to clean the system: that much we appreciate.  There are those who cast doubts stating that everything is tinted by politics, politicking and partisanship but it has reached that point that anything that can lead to positive change (both in the short and long terms) is good as good can get.  

So we are in this phase of purging, of national cleansing --- sorting out the weeds from the blooms and making sure there is enough room in the ground for good things to flourish.  There are all the reports about crime busting, castigating the corrupt --- and exposing those who undermine the stability of the republic.

Despite doubts of some, you cling onto to hope, assuring yourself that things will be better because those in charge are capable of greater moral fortitude.  

And then we get this.

And then we are told that both senators and congressmen have actually usurped the money (knowingly ... or worse, unwittingly)  allocated for their PDAF (Priority Development Aid Fund) to non-existent NGOs. We are told that there is a modus operandi that exists between the offices of the lawmakers and the minions of the Pork Lady.  We are also informed that this has been going on for years. Systematically operational ... for years, my God!

Millions of pesos have been siphoned from the national piggy bank so that some girl can drive her Porsche and keep her lifestyle in an apartment at the Ritz-Carlton.  Millions may or may not have been pocketed by the very people who we elected to guide us through the most turbulent and trying times and to focus on what are the prospects available to glorious nationhood.

This infuriates a whole lot of us ... no, it is tantamount to rage because we feel so cheated that what we yield as our taxes was used to sustain lavish lifestyles that even we cannot dream of remotely achieving.

Actually, it is disgusting. And heartbreaking.

More than the P10B stolen from what should have been invested in nation building, giving aid to those devastated by national calamities or improve the quality and scope of our infrastructure, the greater pain comes from the realization that you do not know who to trust any more. 

Worse than that, you fear that you have lost your trust on the lawmakers whose names have been dragged into this scam.  Whether they are victims themselves of some grand design meant to discredit individuals or nip political ambitions, we cannot tell ... and for some, we couldn't care less.  What is so painful to realize at this moment is that you no longer know who to believe ... and if we so choose to invest our faith even in some, we no longer know how. Or even ask ourselves if we still should or could.

After the latest expose of the head of the Commission on Audit, more names of senators and congressmen from both sides of the color camps were dragged into this quagmire of shame and brazen theft.  If this were a ploy to castrate the Opposition in building their war chest for the Battle of 2016, then this is one of the most gross miscalculations in Philippine Political Strategies.  The revelations blew right on the faces of everybody ... and by that, we mean ... everybody.

A security guard (in all his simple wisdom) encapsulated the feeling most want to pinpoint but never had the guts to say: "Sir, umasa ka pa? Pare-pareho lang po sila."

Then one also begins to wonder: if the pork barrel were removed or abolished, how many would still aspire to be senators or congressmen? Every senator gets P200M a year allocation --- while every congressman gets P70M.  Take away that --- and would we have as many patriots yearning to serve the mamamayang Pilipino because they woke up one morning and realized that this was their real mission in life?

We cannot be all that cynical.  There are people out there who deserve the position of great responsibility to assume national leadership. But at the moment they do not stand the chance because they don't have the backing, the support, the manpower ... and more important, the money to do so. 

Just now I received a text message from my accountant quoting the exact amount I have to pay for my monthly VAT.  I looked at the text message and the price I have to pay next week ...and realized that something already died in me.  It is not only about the amount I have to pay ... it is the feeling of helplessness that goes with the payment.

And I do not want to be helpless any more.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Actually I am so surprised.  And very disappointed.

When I hear all these horror stories about how this performer has changed so completely by exhibiting megalomaniac behavior on the movie set, I ask myself if this were possible at all.  

You only hear stories like these about actors who you know from the very start are half-wits.  And that is only because there is not much brain inside their skulls that air can easily seep in ... either through the nostrils or even the ears. Plagued by apparent lack of intelligence, it somewhat follows that actors or actresses of the sort tend to see themselves as semi-deities sent here on earth to bless mere mortals with their awesome beauty and even their not-so-apparent talent.

But not this performer. Not someone who you know is smart enough to discern what is right from what is wrong.

Not the intelligent and educated. Not those who you have appreciated not only because of their talent but also their professionalism. And what you thought was passion. More so, the ability to be reasonable and to reason out things in a crazy world like entertainment.

You are somewhat rattled, baffled and even floored when you hear stories about how egomaniac actors treat people on the set. 

You shudder when you find out what they demand from the production --- or even the shabby way they treat the minions who scamper around the air-conditioned tents where they stand by during shootings or tapings making sure all their needs are identified and addressed immediately.

You freak out when someone gives you an account of how they demand their own tents, not wanting to share this with other performers.  Your eyes pop out when you hear how they want people cordoned off their periphery because they suddenly "want to be left alone", demand their own portable toilets which they refuse to share with others --- including fellow actors.  

Or the way they move around the set with their noses pointed to the constellations Castor and Pollux ---either because they are suffering from stiff neck or due to an usual pull of gravity on the back of their heads.

You would think that they would have at least the heart and the conscience to realize that a production assistant doesn't even earn as much as the withholding tax taken out from a leading performer's talent fee. You would think that since they also came from the ranks that they would understand and care, that they know how it feels to work one's way to the top.    

Apparently not.  Success can be intoxicating.  And who was that who said that success does not change an individual: it shows the real person.

Perhaps even more disheartening is the realization that you never knew these people at all.  The years you have supposedly known each other suddenly seem so meaningless because what you hear from others. they seem to be talking about a total and complete stranger. 

How could this be the same person you have sat across tables discussing, laughing or even sharing insights into life that go beyond discussions of issues of the business or even the twists and turns of careers? 

You mean all this time, this artist was capable of such exhibitions of not only vanity but of downright inhumanity tempered only the fact that the performer was not yet empowered with what turned out to be a sense of entitlement to make these impossible demands from others?

Oh, come on. Give me a break.

Well, people change.  

That is inevitable. People change because they must change.  Those who refuse to change become extinct.  Change is for survival ... inasmuch as change becomes inevitable. But what pathway of change one takes is a matter of one's choice.  

That also involves far more than intelligence or talent: change requires a lot of maturity. This is most especially true if and when fame and fortune are concerned for these are such dangerous monsters. 

Success in the form of fame and fortune can be dangerous to a person with inferior intelligence.  It is worse when accompanied by determined immaturity. But it is worst when the megalomaniac is really smart --- and is aware of that he or she can get away with being an asshole because the others around him or her have no choice but to comply.

Success is the best weapon for the vengeful.  This is the stuff telenovelas are often made of --- and this is the life script of some movie and television actors and actresses who overestimate their value in their present human existence.  They turn into shit bags.

Weather-weather lang, they say.

Yes, fame and fortune are not only sought after but there are many who would sell their bodies and soul to have a taste of fame and to be known for their fortune.  In the local entertainment industry, stories about wannabes trying all too desperately to be "some bodies" yield heartbreaking stories.  

That is only because success in the entertainment industry is so overrated and that media perpetuates itself through delusional myths and legends.  Media has brainwashed young people that the only way to salvation, the quickest route to Nirvana is to make it big as a star. And you thrive to be a star at all costs. And when you get to the top, you can be anyone you want to be ... and people have no choice but to take you for who you are. 

Star ka, di ba?

The climb is easy for some ... but a tedious process for others.

There are those who achieve their much-desired fame and fortune because they are made to believe that the angels in the heavens above have connived with God to bless them with sheer luck.  But easy come, easy go. The millions that flow into the wallets, pouches and bank accounts also flow out as fast especially if the performers are not wise enough to realize something that their producers will never tell them to their faces: It isn't going to last forever.  

No producer will ever tell their stars that one day they will all wake up and all this will be gone. All this will be over.

There is always someone newer, fresher and cheaper waiting in line for a star's expiration date to finally come.

And considering that we are now living in a world where stars are not naturally discovered, developed and adored, the age of pre-fabricated stardom yields such short-term success --- lasting about three years. If someone is lucky, they can hit five. Maybe ten.  Anything beyond that, prepare yourself for father/mother roles.  Brace yourself for the even longer and more painful trip downhill.

So in the meantime, while basking on the pinnacle of success, the divas make you feel every millisecond, every available erg of what constitutes as their clout. Maybe it is payback time: maybe it is all about the years of struggling to get to the top that pushes these actors to finally flex their muscles, pose impossible demands and act like they own the world --- just to show everyone that they now occupy center stage, own the spotlight and couldn't give a hoot about anybody else sharing their oxygen.

The irony is that the real big stars never behaved that way. Certainly not the Vilma Santoses or the Sharon Cunetas or the Maricel Sorianos.  If ever they want something, they make sure they bring it with them together with their entourage who answers their needs.  They pose no unnecessary or unreasonable demands to the production. And, yes, these ladies treat their co-workers well which is why regardless of the the passage of years, they are respected and loved.

There are real stars --- and there are passing trends.

Not these flash-in-the pan divas. The peak of their popularity usually have the life span of a mayfly. And they don't even know it because they are so preoccupied counting their blessings thinking that the Universe owes it to them.

Enjoy the moment. It won't last long. That much we are assured.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Nobody is really exempted from this.

Each and every one of us has at least one horror story about salesladies in department stores, boutiques, supermarkets --- or even your neighborhood convenience store.  There must be something demonizing about standing behind the counter --- or simply standing for most of the day earning your living assisting people or peddling goods.

Yes, there are bad customers. But there are also terrible salespeople who are not only bad for the business ... but bad. Period.

It is just that somewhere in Zurich there is this Italian-speaking lady who has never heard of Oprah Winfrey.  

How somebody from the Planet Pluto managed to land behind a counter of a high-end store selling upscale Tom Ford bags is something I cannot imagine to this very split second. This totally disconnected lady's refusal to even show one of the world's richest women a bag approximately worth US$38,000.00 because she presumed that the potential buyer "could not afford it" was not merely racist but downright stupid.

Had she known that US$38,000.00 can just be grocery money for somebody who supposedly earned $77M dollars last year, maybe Miss Retail Switzerland would have treated the Big Boss of Harpo Productions just a tad bit better.  

Well, it cannot be helped. Or maybe it can.  Stupidity and/or sheer lack of manners or even training in civilized behavior are really bad for the business ... or, in this case, the Swiss tourist industry.  

You don't mess around with the Queen of Talk because when Ms. Winfrey talks, the world will listen.  No, it goes far beyond that. Oprah's charm is her ability to get people to empathize with her --- to find a much larger lesson than what seems to be at hand.  After all, she will be given the highest honor that any civilian can be awarded by no less than the President of the U.S., right?  She must have done something right ... or good. 

But then again ...

There is really nothing earth shaking about Oprah's experience except for the fact that it happened to her of all people. Well, that and the fact that it is 2013 and you still find such feeble-minded thinking in --- wait a minute: Zurich?! To be prejudged for your buying power because of the color of your skin is the ultimate put-down, a ridiculous if not hideous kind of prejudice that connotes the worst form of racial discrimination or even xenophobia.

Yet for any one who is not born with white skin and has traveled to parts of this planet where blonde and blue eyes are brought about by genes and not L'Oreal or contact lenses, such experiences are common.  Sad, yes ... but common.  And, as Oprah herself said in her interview where she cited this celebrated incident in Switzerland, prejudice and discrimination can assume numerous forms --- whether racist or sexist in nature.

Despite our belief that the world has become so small and that various races have assimilated into one melting pot, there is still and perhaps will always be discrimination.  Despite all efforts to be civil or even at least remain civilized, there will always be distinctions brought about by the way people look. Or the way they speak, the accents that they carry.   There will always be pre-judgment based on the color of skin, our choice of clothes or even sheer demeanor.

People will always be judged based on perception or pre-conceived notions ... even social-conditioning and not for who they are and what they are really worth in the larger scale of humanity.  

There are those who believe that despite the number of years any Asian or African or even Latino spends in an adopted country --- especially in one predominantly populated by whites --- they shall always remain as second class citizens.  The undertow of the demeaning whisper, the condescending attitude flaunted by those who believe that skin color is the ultimate measure of racial superiority --- will always exist.

It is only a matter of living with it --- by accepting it or fighting against any such opportunities where prejudice becomes suggested or apparent that one learns to live day by day.

But then you need not cross shores to be treated badly.

What is sad is that even within your own country, you get all forms of discrimination and this does not only come from your fellow countrymen of allegedly better education or breeding or social station.  The experience Ms. Winfrey encountered is often found here --- and not because the buyer is African-American but due to the lack of training, etiquette or even dedication for work of the Filipino salesperson.

How many of us have encountered salesladies who refuse to show us merchandise while throwing a really deadpan bitchy line like, "Mahal yan!" (That's expensive!) which is tantamount to saying, "Kapal mo, ha? Di mo afford yan!" (Are you crazy? You can't afford that.) The demented logic here is not because said salesperson wants to spare you the embarrassment of salivating for something way beyond your wallet's reach. She just does not want to waste time showing you something that she thinks is beyond your means.  She feels it is a waste of time dealing with you because you can't afford to buy what you want anyway.

Or what about salesladies who couldn't care less about what they are selling?

Not only do they show absolute lack of interest (perhaps just token courtesy) to their customers --- but also completely devoid of knowledge of what they are selling, what are the available stock or any other piece of information that a potential buyer might find important.  That sometimes includes the price of the item --- especially if the tags have peeled off or some act of God has removed the cost of acquisition.

One time in one of the more popular local clothing chains, I had the infuriating encounter with a cashier who actually snarled at me because I was following-up a loyalty card that the store was supposed to provide me. OK, maybe it was that time of the month and she had menstrual cramps tantamount of labor pains --- or maybe her planets were not in their proper places somewhere up there in the skies --- but, frankly, I do not give a flying f--k.  The point is that I was asking politely and she snarled at me ... and the reply she got will be remembered not only by her (for the next three reincarnations) but also anyone else within the periphery of the store at that time.

A message in Twitter took approximately thirty minutes before a representative of the establishment connected with me, bearing apologies. 

When I tell this story to friends, they say,"Hey, didn't she know who you are?" and I feel more infuriated.  Man, it is not a question of who I am ... because I may be something fresh out of the boondocks and still this salesperson has no right to snarl at me even if she is having her bad hair day! It should not be done to anybody ... everybody ...

Yes, we all know that some salespeople are made to stand up the whole day with only fifteen minutes to half-an-hour respites to ease their tired feet.  We are also aware that some establishments do not provide permanent employment to their sales personnel, either obtaining them from outsourced manpower agencies --- or, in certain cases, given three to six months contracts.  

That means these front line sellers do not have the protection nor the incentive to give more than what is necessary to comply with their job requirements.  But still ... Yes, but still.

If one feels shortchanged by the job, then look for another option. If there are no other options, then accept the situation and be good at it. Passing on one's misery to other people by being unnecessary bitches or practicing idiots do not make much of a future prospect.

More so, being in the service industry and foisting prejudices or simply being judgmental is reason enough to scream, "Off with her head!"